A wristwatch made entirely by hand using mid-18th to 19th century techniques by a young watchmaker as part of an educational/conservation project just sold for HK$6,845,000 (Approx. AED3.24 million or $883,200) at the Christie’s Important Watches auction in Hong Kong this morning.
The watch is one of a series of 11 made by Michel Boulanger, a teacher at the Watchmaking School of Paris, as part of the Naissance d’une Montre initiative. Le Garde Temps – Naissance d’une Montre (French for Guarding Time – Birth of a Watch) was a project initiated by arguably the highest collective of horological knowledge that exists today – master watchmaker Philippe Dufour, Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey (of Greubel-Forsey fame) - following concerns that rapid industrialization was wiping out artisanal craftsmanship from the watch industry.
Forsey and Greubel are among the last generation of watchmakers who received proper training before mechanization took over nearly all of the manufacturing processes. As part of the Naissance d’une Montre project, the trio would teach everything they knew about traditional techniques to one lucky young watchmaker, who would in time, be able to pass them on to the next generation.
The chosen one would build a limited number of high-quality timepieces, by hand, using his newly-acquired skills and without the use of any computer controlled (CNC). Besides the fact that Boulanger is a talented watchmaker, his candidature was helped by the fact he was a teacher at a watchmaking school. It also helped that he had some experience in the restoration of ancient timepieces, which was a clear demonstration of his interest in horological heritage.
Though the watch’s architectural DNA is closer to a Greubel-Forsey timepiece, the techniques used mirror those employed between 1750 and 1850. This was an era that is considered the golden age of watchmaking; it was the time of greats like Abraham-Louis Breguet and John Arnold. This watch displays the hours, minutes, seconds and is fitted with a tourbillon, a device invented by Breguet in 1795 that negates the effects of gravity on the accuracy of a mechanical timepiece.
Dufour, considered “a living-legend” in the collecting community for his superlative hand-made watches, guided Boulanger through the process of creating the balance spring. He helped Boulanger transform a raw balance spring into one ready to be used in the escapement. It’s a skill that few watchmakers possess today.
The dial featured the names of Greubel-Forsey at 12 o’clock and Philippe Dufour at 6 o’clock on the off-centre dial that shows the hours and minutes. Michel Boulanger’s name is engraved on the tourbillon. It’s not often that a wristwatch dial carries the signature of three of the most important watchmakers in modern horology, so there was considerable interest in how the watch would fare today. On the auction block this morning, the timepiece (No. 6/ 11), with a pre-sale estimate HK$4,000,000 - HK$8,000,000, sold for HK$6,845,000.